Among all the great wise sayings attributed to Jesus few have had so wide and comforting an influence on human lives as the great invitation so often quoted by theologians and preachers—"Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
This saying, used sometimes to lull souls into a lazy satisfaction and a sentimental ease, ought to be one of the most effectual calls to the higher life of strenuous endeavor.
Jesus stands before us in this gentle cry of love, for the type of self-sacrifice and devotion to the highest laws of being, for an example of submission to the Divine will, of which He knew himself to be a part. He stands for the realization, in common practical daily life, of self-knowledge and self-control, as one of the highest manifestations of human victory over all the lower sensuous side of life, and as a noble evidence of the possibility of Divine virtue becoming incorporated in man, amid the lowliest ordinary surroundings. In Him the life of peasant and artisan and the whole round of common labor is glorified and raised to the dignity of true kingship, the kingship which can do the things most worthy and needful to be done, and rise above the dead self in thoughts of goodness, words of wisdom, and deeds of love. Jesus saw around Him, as we see today, a world of burdened men and women, multitudes of His brothers and sisters devoting every power of mind and body to simply selfish ends. He saw them and loved them. He understood the cause of their heavy burdens and pitied them. He knew that all down the ages the burden of every human life has been heavy, exactly in proportion to the intensity of the selfishness embodied in that life. Where there is grasping meanness and the covetous struggle for riches, or place, or power, and the desire for more and ever more, the vain ambition to be great, or to achieve some notable position in society, there the heavy burden presses most, and these are they in the busy world of commerce or politics, or of ecclesiastical organization, who would "gain the whole world and lose their own souls."
A recent writer has said, "We find ourselves, every one of us, summoned to a perpetual conflict between the higher and the lower, between good and evil, between a life of law-ruled freedom and a life of impulse, between self and the claims of others, between present pleasures and future peace, between soul and body, between consecration and indulgence, between love and selfishness, between God and mammon." And just in proportion as we become enslaved by the "lower" and neglect or reject the "higher," do we live and labor under our heavy burden, a self-imposed burden more grievous than any yet laid upon our race by tyrants or despots. Why should we go through if "our daily round and common task" laden with this heavy burden of our own making when we can rejoice in perfect freedom by becoming reconciled to our highest selves and to God? Why should we cultivate envy, hatred, and malice when as self-controlled men and women we can show that, as William Penn said, "All good men are of one religion" by loving one another?
These heavy burdens of self-deception fall off just as the law of love rules our lives, enabling us to "bear the infirmities of the weak," to "each esteem others better than ourselves," and rejoice in the blessedness of the meek and pure in heart.
Who have been the bearers of heavy burdens all down our human story but those who selfishly aspired to be great, or were avaricious, or cruel, or wasteful of life, or health, or gifts bestowed? Who bore the heavy burden, Jesus or Pilate? Stephen or Saul? Paul or Felix? George Fox or his persecutors? Bunyan in prison or the magistrates who condemned him? Who, coming to the same kind of simple, holy life as that lived by Jesus, ever found that life a burden? What joyful lives, what happy homes, what blessed communities, what "cities of God" would be possible if we could lay down the heavy burden of our selfishness and learn to walk in that liberty wherewith those are made free who have the Spirit which dwelt in Jesus, who have set at naught the tyranny of outward conventions, and so cultivated the inner life that "the Kingdom of God" has become the great reality.
In common life who is the most heavy laden? Not the cheerful, or the industrious, or the frugal, but the peevish, and the idle, and the wasteful. We know some who lie on beds of pain and endure long years of weakness with patience; who are less burdened and more peaceful than others who sleep on beds of down and live lives of thoughtlessness in pursuit of pleasure. We spring up with light hearts, and follow our daily duties with a joy beyond words when we forget all our selfish aims and objects, and live for others. The burden falls from all who in this practical way "come to Jesus," for this is the way wherein He walked as "He went about doing good."
Some of us are heavy laden with the weakness and folly of those we love, but even this heavy burden is made light when we can meet it in the spirit of Him who wept over Jerusalem, for we know that even as darkness and light are both alike to Divine Wisdom and Love, so to us as we live in that Love and Wisdom will these outer things, however trying, become as steps unto the more perfect life of patience and faith.
Rollo Russell has recently said, "It is not necessary for us to know the origin of evil. It is necessary to know that our duty is to destroy it." lf we can conquer self and put off the heavy burden of our own evils, we shall be like the man who, having taken the beam out of his own eye, sees the more clearly to remove the mote from the eye of his brother.
The yoke of unselfish love is easy, and right and pure thought, kind words and good deeds, make even the common burdens of ordinary life light with Divine peace and joy. "The Kingdom of God" may begin within as a "grain of mustard seed," but by cultivating the good and true it will grow into constant helpfulness to others, and so lighten the burdens of earth and surely help to bring in the eternal years of perfect Love.